With the 2021 general election now closer than 2020's, Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to request identifying information on Pennsylvania's roughly 9 million registered voters as part of a legislative investigation of former President Donald Trump's loss.
The legal requests are the opening salvo in what could be a long, messy fight over the investigation, which was spurred by unverified claims of voter fraud that have been repeatedly rejected by federal judges, county elections officials, and even Trump's former attorney general.
The 17 subpoenas were approved in a party-line vote by the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, a seldom-used panel that Republican leadership has turned into a vehicle for conducting their investigation.
Specifically, the subpoenas request:
- All emails, legal guidance, and training procedures of the Department of State, which oversees elections, sent to the commonwealth's 67 county boards of election between May 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
- A list of all of all registered voters in the commonwealth, including their name, date of birth, driver's license number, last four digits of social security number, address, and date of last voting activity on both November 1, 2020 and May 1, 2021
- A list of everyone who voted in the 2020 presidential election and 2021 primary divided by if they voted in-person, by mail, by absentee ballot, or by provisional ballot
Responses for this round of subpoenas are due Oct. 1. It's unclear who will have access to this data. The Senate is hiring a private vendor to conduct the review, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday.
The panel's chairperson, Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, added that the vendor will be paid with taxpayer money. He is still reviewing vendor candidates, but did not identify any. He also did not rule out issuing further subpoenas for ballots or other election materials.
Much of this information the panel requested is already public, such as when and how voters last cast a ballot, and can be purchased from the Department of State for $20. However, the identifying information, such as the last four digits of voters' social security numbers, and their driver's license numbers, are not in the file.
Dush said the committee was seeking the social security numbers to verify voters' identities, seemingly referencing those claims.
“There have been questions around the validity of people who have voted, whether or not they exist," Dush said. “We're not responding to proven allegations, we are investigating the allegations."
After the meeting, Dush cited sworn affidavits gathered by the state Republican Party to justify his claim of unverified voters. He added he had not yet reviewed those affidavits.
There have been just a handful of proven cases of fraud in Pennsylvania, including a Trump supporter Chester County who tried to impersonate his son to cast a second ballot. The supporter is currently on trial.
However, most Republicans, such as Corman, have instead walked a middle ground.
They've denounced the Wolf administration and the state Supreme Court's actions in the lead up to the election for causing “inconsistencies," and signed letters asking for the state's electoral college results to be tossed out, but haven't branded the issue as “fraud."
Corman even referenced his old stand against the “hue and cry" of Trump supporters who wanted the state Legislature to appoint its own, Trump-supporting electors, overturning the 2020 election result.
He argued that distrust of the election results — fed by Trump and his allies false claims — created a need to address those concerns through a Senate investigation.
“Either we will find things that will better improve our laws, or we will find nothing that will dispel a lot of people's concerns," Corman said Wednesday.
Dush is only running the review after the panel's former chair, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, was ousted after publicly questioning Corman's desire to even hold the review.
Mastriano was a vocal Trump ally who frequently cited claims of fraud, and was even outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when Trump's supporters attempted to disrupt Congress certifying President Joe Biden's win.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Senate Democrats linked these efforts from Republicans to spread misinformation about the 2020 election to their investigation.
“The manner and the process by which we're going about trying to invalidate voters rights is dangerous and is tied into many activities which crossed the line which has been established not just for this past election cycle, but frankly for the existence of this country," state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said.
Senate Democrats said after the meeting that they also planned to challenge the subpoenas in state court and seek an injunction blocking their data request, though it's unclear if such a challenge would succeed. Those filings are still pending.
Wolf added in a statement he'd oppose the Senate Republicans efforts, and that the GOP “should be ashamed of their latest attempt to destabilize our election system through a sham investigation that will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars."
There isn't even agreement among Pennsylvania Senate Republicans on the investigation . At least two state senators have already spoken out against the effort.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, said in a statement last month that he expected the legal battles over the investigation to drag out for three to five years.
Yaw also pushed back on the motive for many who support the so-called election review, who may believe it could find proof of fraud and reinstate Trump. Based on emails he's received, “that is the underlying rationale for many who support an audit," Yaw wrote.
“Unless there is a coup, which is not going to happen in the United States, the 2020 election is over. Biden is the president," Yaw said. “An audit is not going to change that fact irrespective of the outcome."
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